New Study Explores Relationship Between Cat Welfare And Owner Personality

Grumpy Cat attends the 2015 Toyfair at the Jacob Javitz Center.
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A new study published in peer-reviewed journal PLOS One explores the relationship between owner personality and cat welfare.

Authored by Lauren R. Finka, Joanna Ward, Mark J. Farnworth, and Daniel S. Mills, “Owner personality and the wellbeing of their cats share parallels with the parent-child relationship” is one of the first studies to draw parallels between parent-child and owner-pet relationships.

The relationship between parent personality and the well-being of children is well established. It is the scientific consensus that between 40 to 70 percent of personality traits depend on psycho-social factors, while 30 to 60 percent of personality traits are inherited.

One of the big five personality traits, neuroticism, is strongly linked to negative outcomes for the child: namely, poorer physical and mental health. The other four personality traits include agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and openness.

In order to explore whether this applies in owner-cat relationships as well, researchers led by Lauren Finka of Nottingham Trent University recruited 3,331 pet owners to conduct a survey meant to investigate their personality and their pets’ health.

All participants were older than 18, and lived with their cat for more than six months. Those who owned more than one pet were asked to select the cat they felt they knew best. The majority of cats, more than 80 percent, were non-pedigrees. The average age was 7.1 years.

A group of cats of different breeds sitting in a raw in a white background.
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“Our findings mirror the findings of research on parental personality, parenting styles and child behaviour in various ways,” the researchers wrote.

Owners who scored high in neuroticism reported that their cats were aggressive, fearful, overweight, and displayed-stress linked behaviors.

Cat owners who scored higher in agreeableness reported well-being outcomes for their pets. Their pets had normal weight, and displayed less stress-linked behaviors.

Higher owner scores for conscientiousness and openness were generally associated with less anxious behavioral styles in cats. Owners who scored high in conscientiousness and openness also reported that their cats were less avoidant and less aggressive.

Unsurprisingly, extroverted owners reported being more likely to provide their pets with access to outdoors.

“This study provides the best evidence to date of the relationship between owner personality and cat behavior, welfare and lifestyle parameters, showing for the first time clear parallels with the parent-child relationship and the associated well-being outcomes for children.”

The results indicate, as researchers concluded, that lower levels of owner neuroticism and higher levels of agreeableness, openness, extroversion, and conscientiousness are beneficial for cats. As is the case in parent-child relationships, neuroticism is linked with negative outcomes.

Like all studies, this one has limitations, the researchers added, with the biggest one being the fact that owners self-reported on their cats behavior and health.